Welcome to Accenture’s guide to getting started in triathlon and preparing for a sprint or relay race. We’ve joined forces with our partner British Triathlon to bring you insights from the experts, providing you with all the information you need to take you from complete novice to the start line at an event. From equipment, nutrition and hydration advice to training plans, you’ll find everything you need to start your triathlon journey.
You will most likely need a wetsuit. The official rule is if the water temperature is below 14°C, wetsuits are mandatory. My Triathlon offer wetsuit hire, and we recommend you also do some training in a wetsuit prior to race day to get used to swimming in it. Find out more about wetsuit fitting here.
It’s important to consider what you wear under your wetsuit. If a tri suit is not for you here are some alternatives:
Men: fitted swimwear, such as jammers, are preferable to baggy swim shorts. You may be able to do the bike and run in them afterwards or put other shorts on over them in transition if you aren’t comfortable completing the rest of the race in fitted shorts.
Women: a comfortable fitted swimsuit will suffice. Preferably a one-piece that you can quickly put your running or cycling kit on top of if you are competing in the other legs. Many participants wear a quick-drying sports bra under their swimsuit or tri suit, as they normally don’t offer enough support by alone.
Remember, nudity is not allowed in transition on race day! This means you will need to wear your swim kit underneath your wetsuit, and pull on clothes over the top to complete the event.
A good set of goggles is essential on race day, preferably ones that are suitable for open water. You should ensure they fit well, and that you have good all-round visibility.
Event organisers will provide you with a swim cap on race day, the colour of which will be specific to the start time of your race. If it isn’t sent to you beforehand in a race pack it is normally passed to you right before you start your race. If you have a favourite swim cap you can still wear it, but you will need to place your race swim cap over the top of it.
For the swim exercises suggested in our training plan you will need a kickboard, fins and a pull buoy, available for purchase at most sports stores.
SWIM TOP TIP
Take a small towel with you into transition. You can use it to dry your feet after the swim as well as mark your space in the transition area. If you decide not to wear socks after the swim for the cycle and the run, you may like to use a small amount of talcum powder in your shoes to help dry your feet and prevent rubbing.
If you are wearing a tri suit for the race, you’ll be set. You simply need to have your helmet and shoes on ready to grab your bike and get straight out on the bike course.
If you are wearing a swimsuit then you may wish to pull on shorts and a technical t-shirt that you are comfortable cycling and running in, and this means you won’t need to change clothes again before the run. Ideally, you should wear breathable clothing; go for items made from technical, soft, quick-drying fabrics.
You will need to arrange to bring your own bike or rent a bike for race day. You can use any bike you feel comfortable on, even a mountain bike as long as it is safe and roadworthy. If you don’t have a bike, many races offer bike hire as part of the race day experience, or you can use British Bike Hire.
Cycle helmets are compulsory for triathlons. No helmet, no race! Be prepared for race marshals to inspect your helmet to ensure it is in good condition. During transition you must wear your helmet and have it fastened before you even touch your bike. Marshals may penalise you for running with your bike without your helmet fastened. When you return to transition after cycling, you must keep your helmet fastened until you have placed your bike back on the rack.
Whilst cycling gloves are not essential, some people like to use them during races and training to prevent rubbing and help maintain a strong grip on the handlebars. They often include padding to provide extra protection for your hands if you were to fall. Triathletes competing in all legs often opt not to wear gloves on race day as putting gloves onto wet hands can sometimes cause delays in transition.
During the race, you will need to ensure that your race number is visible whilst on the bike and can be seen from the back. It can be safety pinned to your clothing, or you may wish to use a race belt. A race belt is an elastic belt that has toggles to attach your number to. A race belt is recommended so you can display your race number on your back when you are cycling and on your front when you are running.
CYCLE TOP TIP
Make sure you know how to replace the inner tube on your bike and on race day, remember to bring any equipment and spares (inner tube, tyre levers, mini pump/CO2 cannister) you might need.
If you’re not wearing a tri suit, your running kit can be the same clothes you cycle in, so make sure they’re comfortable and won’t cause any rubbing or irritation.
Your running shoes are the most important equipment needed for the run. Make sure they’re comfortable and fit well; you should use the shoes that you have done your training in, as buying a new pair of trainers for race day may result in blistering and chafing. This applies to all your running, swimming, and cycle gear.
RUN TOP TIP
Do a few brick sessions in training to practice running immediately after you come off the bike. Your legs will feel very heavy and jelly-like when you first start running, but should soon feel normal again once you get going.
Our swim sessions are mostly pool-based with some open water practice later on. Swimming pools are effective for structured training because they allow exercise sets to be broken up and easily measured. Open water swimming is very different to pool swimming and the skills necessary to adapt comfortably to this type of swimming are important. We recommend you allow yourself 2-3 sessions minimum to get used to open water and wearing a wetsuit. If this is something you particularly struggle with, you can allocate more time to your open water swimming practice and we recommend you attend a professionally coached session to help you build your skills.There are a variety of open water venues around the country, many of which can be found here. For the swim drills included in this training plan you will need a kickboard, fins and a pull buoy, found at most large sport stores.
Cycling sessions can be performed indoors and outdoors. Indoor sessions on gym bikes or spin bikes will provide a good level of fitness and can be easily fitted around office hours. Some of the sessions in this training plan are outdoors, but they can easily be achieved on an indoor bike too, however we recommend
you spend time outside on a bike as this is the only way to improve handling skills and get used to riding in all conditions. If you don’t have a bike you can rent one here.
Running is perhaps the easiest discipline to build into training because it requires the least equipment and can be done anywhere. Treadmills provide easy access to training as well as uninterrupted running, however running outside is better for pacing, as it ensures your body adapts to balance across different surfaces as well as working with natural changes in gradient.
A brick session comprises a run immediately after cycling with the aim of getting you used to moving from one discipline to another without a break. They are great training for building the right kind of fitness for race day and getting used to transitioning between two disciplines. You will only need to complete brick training sessions if you are competing in a Tribe.
DRILLSThe training plan includes drills to help you improve your technique. These video links will help you understand and show you how to complete the drills that are used, so sure to watch these alongside your training.
FLEXIBILITY AND MOBILITY
Stretching and foam rolling can help improve flexibility and reduce the chances of injury. Take a look at the following videos for more information:Foam Rolling
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING
Additional strength training will enhance your training plan. Adding in core exercises and bodyweight training will help your body adapt to the demands of triathlon. For this you could look in to attending group classes such as Pilates, Yoga and circuits alongside your triathlon training.
MISSED A SESSION?
From time to time your busy lives may get in the way of the training schedule and sometimes this is unavoidable so don’t feel guilty! In this situation don’t try and make up the missed session, simply pick up your schedule as normal the following day. Also, don’t train on your rest days! These are in there to allow your muscles to recover and repair themselves ready for the next training sessions in your plan.
RATE OF PERCIEVED EXERTION (RPE)
The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale is used to determine the intensity of your sessions. These will be included in each session to make it clear what intensity level you should to aim for. The below table will help you to understand how you should feel when executing the training session. The scale is subjective and requires you to tune in to your body and assess how your body feels and is responding to the exercise. Consider how your quickly your heart is pumping, how fast you are breathing, how much you are sweating and how much discomfort you are experiencing.
HEART RATE TRAINING
If you like to train with a heart rate monitor, where the RPE is 6-7 train to 65%-75% of your maximum heart rate, for an RPE of 7-8 aim for a range of 70-80% and for RPE 9 around 85-90%.
Lucy Wainwright, former Olympian and Performance Nutritionist working for the English Institute of Sport with British Triathlon, shares her five top nutritional tips for training for a triathlon:
PLAN YOUR MEALS
Fuelling your body is important. Plan your meals for the week and make a shopping list detailing what you’ll need to buy. If you’re busy during the week, meals can be prepared in advance over the weekend. You’ll be surprised how much time and effort your food prep will save you!
DON’T SKIP MEALS
Fuelling your body is important. Skipping meals may result in lower energy, longer recovery times, and impact your immune function and well-being; all of which can have a negative effect on your training.
EAT THE RIGHT FOOD
Carbohydrates and healthy fats are important sources of energy required by the body. It is also important to get regular, good quality protein throughout the day to help your muscles recover and rebuild.
Including plenty of vegetables and fruit in your diet will help ensure your intake of vitamins and minerals is sufficient. Ensuring you are consuming high-quality food will help to maximise your training gains.
VARIETY OF FOOD
Variety is important! It will help you get the range of nutrients your body needs, and you won’t get bored of eating the same foods day in and day out. Why not try out a new fruit or vegetable every week?
ENJOY YOUR MEALS
Many athletes are foodies. Taking the time to have nice meals with family and friends between your training will be good for both body and soul.
It’s a good idea to keep a bottle of water with you and constantly sip throughout your day even if you are not exercising. This way, when you are training, you can make sure you are starting your sessions well hydrated.
For a sprint distance race, provided you are well-hydrated, you will need minimal fluid during the race. There will normally be a water station available during the run should you feel you need a drink. When racing, sip a little at a time and don’t gulp a whole lot down at once.
Use our 7 Day Nutrition Plan which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, providing a guide to a healthy balance to fuel your fitness goals—whatever they may be!DOWNLOAD A FULL WEEK’S MEAL PLAN, COURTESY OF BRITISH TRIATHLON’S HEAD NUTRITIONIST [PDF]
The transition area is where you move from one leg of a triathlon to the next. If you’re competing in a full triathlon you will need to prepare for this as the transition will be crucial to your race. The transition area is also the designated place where you will ‘rack’ your bike, helmet, and towel, as well as store drinks and changes of clothing/footwear you may need for the race. Find out more here.
‘T1’ is the transition from swim to bike and ‘T2’ is the transition from bike to run. Both take place in the transition area.
If you are only completing one leg of the Relay you don’t need to worry about this section, swap over the timing chip to your next team mate and recover!
Familiarise yourself with where you have ‘racked’ your bike and where the ‘bike in’ and ‘bike out’ areas are. These are the areas through which you will enter and leave the transition area
When you enter or leave transition on your bike there is a dismount area in which you must walk with your bike. These areas will be signposted or marshalled but make sure you know where they are before starting the race.
To keep transitions quick, have them planned out in advance and if possible, have your equipment ready.
When training, practice getting out of the pool to help with transitions. It’s important to master this to get used to the sensation of being horizontal and then immediately vertical.
Never rush and use the changing rooms to get changed in transition if you need to.
Before and after each training session you should warm up and warm down.
Warming up prepares your body for exercise, allowing you to move more efficiently which puts less stress on joints and helps to lower injury risk. Warming down brings your heart rate back to normal. Both static and dynamic stretching are important in warming up and down, especially in reducing muscle stiffness.
The training plans will give some guidance on warming up and warming down, but take a look at these videos for stretching advice to supplement your training sessions.
Rest and recovery is just as important to your race preparation as the training itself. If you get to a stage where you think you may be over-trained, rather than just a little tired that day, try to start your planned training session, but assess how you feel after the first 5 minutes. If after 5-10 minutes you don’t feel like you can carry on, take a rest day.
Equally if you’ve been struggling with training for a few days and are finding it really difficult, you could consider having a recovery day, or focus on light physical activity instead, such as a short walk or cycle. Over-training can lead to injury, so listen to your body.
After training, ensure that you have a mix of protein and carbohydrate, the ideal recovery nutrition, within 20-30 minutes of finishing your training session. A lot of triathlon training is low intensity, longer duration, so this combination works well to encourage recovery. You can find our seven-day nutrition plan, which includes recipes for high protein and carbohydrate meals and top tips from British Triathlon’s nutritionist, Lucy Wainwright, here.
SLEEP IS KING
Sleep is one of the most important elements of recovery as sleep and rest is the time the body best repairs itself from all the training you have been doing. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep with an aim to wake up feeling refreshed.
Prior to going to sleep, find the time to wind down. Find a technique that works for you, perhaps reading a book, listening to music or meditation. Have a listen to our podcast, where British Triathlon coaches talk with podcaster and coach Ben Coomber about listening to your body.
Eating regular meals throughout the day will ensure a good supply of nutrients to allow the body to recover and be ready to go again.
Our podcasts, hosted by Ben Coomber and featuring British Triathlon’s Olympic Head Coach, Ben Bright and Paralympic Performance Coach, Steve Casson, cover all things health and wellbeing; from training and mindset, to why triathlon really is a sport for everyone.